Was Luke Jewish?

In this episode of Messiah Podcast, we ask Rabbi Dr. Mark Kinzer whether the author of Luke and Acts may in fact have been a first-century Jew.

Fresco of Luke the Evangelist in Loreto Prague (Image: Adobe Stock/jorisvo)

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Who wrote the Gospel of Luke? Does it matter? Christian interpreters have traditionally attributed the Gospel of Luke and its sequel, Acts, to a physician and companion of Paul named Luke.

This Luke is mentioned briefly in several of Paul’s epistles and is usually assumed to be a Gentile. However, our Messiah Podcast guest this week, eminent Messianic Jewish scholar and post-supersessionist theologian Rabbi Dr. Mark Kinzer, argues that this is only a guess—and not necessarily a good guess. The author of these books didn’t put his name on them; we don’t really know who wrote them. However, his close familiarity with Judaism, Jewish culture, and the Old Testament indicate that he may have been a Jew.

While the question of whether “Luke” was Jewish doesn’t necessarily need to be answered in order to interpret his theology, the assumption of his Gentile-ness has gone hand in hand with an interpretation of Luke that relativizes the Jewish people in favor of a reconstituted “Israel” that no longer consists of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Dr. Kinzer argues that on the contrary, Luke’s theology is thoroughly Jewish. For example, he places Jerusalem at the center of God’s activity in the world; even when apostles travel to spread the good news of Yeshua, they always return to Jerusalem when they are able. Furthermore, Luke’s quotations from the Old Testament indicate that he understands the Jewish people—and not some other group in the guise of a redefined “Israel”—to be the rightful heirs of God’s promises to Israel.

Furthermore, Luke identifies the repentance of Israel as the contingency that must be fulfilled before the kingdom can come in its fullness, placing the Jewish people, says Dr. Kinzer, “at the very heart of God’s purposes in history.”

Dr. Kinzer also relates that many modern commentators now see the apostolic decree in Acts 15 in a totally different light than classical interpreters. While many traditionalists have seen the prohibitions of blood, meat sacrificed to idols, and improperly slaughtered meat as concessions to an inflexible Jewish contingent, more recent commentators postulate that these prohibitions were actually derived from the Torah’s directions for non-Jewish residents within Israel. These restrictions, therefore, reflect a high view of the Torah within the apostolic community and reinforce the Jewish character of the Lukan writings.

Another thread in Luke’s theology is an identification between Yeshua and the holy city of Jerusalem. Rather than interpreting the destruction of Jerusalem as signaling a retributive end to the significance of the Jewish people, a more careful reading of Luke reveals that Yeshua’s suffering prefigures Jerusalem’s suffering. His resurrection is therefore a message of hope for Israel.

In Dr. Kinzer’s words, “Just as Yeshua enters in his death into the suffering of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem… so the resurrection of Yeshua is the hope, it’s the foretaste, it’s the promise, it’s the catalyst, it’s the true underlying power that will bring about the restoration of the city of Jerusalem.”

Check out this episode and more at messiahpodcast.org.


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